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How Does Your Garden Grow?

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Gardening season starts in January here at Five Feline Farm.

Planning

The first task in any gardener’s year is to determine what to grow. Here at the Farm, we concentrate on vegetables we can preserve for winter and those we can eat fresh. It is important to keep the garden plans from year to year so crops can be rotated. Where the corn was planted last year, tomatoes will be planted this year. Beans will be replaced with peppers and so on.

Seed Order

As mentioned in a prior post, we order the majority of the garden seeds from Sustainable Seeds. This company specializes in organic, open pollinated and heirloom varieties. They do not print a catalog in keeping with their efforts to conserve resources. Check them out online at www.sustainableseedco.com. We also ordered a few seeds from The Cooks Garden (www.cooksgarden.com).

Herb Day

There is nothing like a day spent learning about herbs and being motivated to try new things in the garden and kitchen. Last Saturday was spent at the University of Illinois Extension Herb Day in Urbana. The herb of the year for 2013 is Elder. We may have an Elder on the property so will watch this during the coming season. Donna won a beautiful, large potted Rosemary in the door prize drawing. The university extension offices are a valuable resource for gardeners and farmers. We recommend that you check into your local extension.

Plant Starts

The temperature outside hovers in the teens, but in the basement Spring begins in the form of seedlings. Shelves of grow lights and heat mats set up the perfect conditions to start the garden plants. Eleven varieties of tomatoes, nine types of peppers, four kinds of basil, cilantro, and parsley start poking green leaves through germinating mix. There are alfalfa spouts and mung bean sprouts almost ready. And what would Five Feline Farm be without some catgrass?

Check back each week to see what activities are going on at Five Feline Farm. Perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of the life of the real cats.

Send in your questions about the Farm and we’ll post the answers.

Maximizing Resources

We are always on the lookout for ways to save money and maximize resources. One thing that we do is buy meat in bulk whenever possible, then cut and package at home. When you buy steaks or roasts in a grocery store, the butcher has trimmed the large cuts of some fat and connective tissue in addition to slicing it into package size cuts. Every cut by a butcher adds to the cost of the final package.

The most common pieces of beef we buy are whole tenderloin, whole ribeye and eye round. Each of these chunks of beef are 7 to 10 pounds in size. A very sharp knife, cutting board that can be sanitized and a Foodsaver are additional requirements.

Here is the method I use:

Start with trimming the whole piece of excess fat and connective tissue or silver skin from the exterior. The meat is then sliced into steaks, roasts, chunks for stew, or fajita slices; sealed and frozen. All of the trimmings are saved and frozen in baggies.

After a few sessions of meat cutting, 5 pounds or so of trimmings have accumulated. Toss frozen scraps into a stock pot with 2-3 cups of water and simmer for 3 hours. Strain out the broth and separate fat from broth.

The fat makes suet cakes for the birds. Fill an aluminum cake pan about half full of birdseed, fill with melted fat. This sets up quickly even at room temperature. It is easier to cut however if chilled for at least 30 minutes.

The defatted broth makes a delicious base for noodles even without any added meat.

The trimmings that would have been trash produce a meal for humans and animals at the Farm. We are still looking for a good use for the boiled beef scraps that are strained out of the broth. If you have suggestions, please leave a comment.

Update from the Farm

The New Year is here and these cold winter months are good for completing inside chores. Here’s the latest list from the Farm:

  • Order seeds–The favorite seed source for Five Feline Farm is Sustainable Seeds. This company seems to practice the good things of sustainable living–organic seeds, heirloom varieties and a wide selection. No catalogs are printed as another way to be sustainable and support the environment. Check them out at http://www.sustainableseedco.com

 

  • Set up the germinating station-The grow lights are on warming up the germinating mix from http://www.gardenerssupply.com Soon tiny seedlings will appear and be nurtured until spring.

 

  • Clean and organize-This task applies to the whole house. Time to sort out those unused items and clear out the clutter. Goodwill here we come.

 

  • Do a home improvement project–A significant project in the basement was completed by replacing a wall of cheap wipe off board with beautiful high gloss carsiding.

 

  • Make a resolution-Mine is to craft more regular blog posts.

What is on your to do list? Drop us a comment to share.

 

 

Are You Smarter than a Raccoon?

Here at the Farm we enjoy a variety of wildlife. Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Goldfinches and Juncos visit the backyard feeders daily during the winter months. Chipmunks, squirrels and the occasional Opossum also partake from the bounty. The most wily of the free loaders are the Raccoons.

Raccoons have an apparent taste for the Woodpecker suet. Over the past six months, Mr. Raccoon has helped himself to not only the suet in the feeder but the feeder itself. He drags the feeders into the woods to empty out the suet at his leisure. He must also be using the wire cage feeders to decorate his den because it is impossible to find the missing feeders. We  have hunted and searched through the woods but unable to retrieve the feeders. Three heavy duty wire feeders, gone.

Every effort is made to thwart the Raccoon. Suet feeders are hung from a Locust tree with two inch thorns adorning every branch. The wire feeders are tied shut with twist ties and more recently a multiple knotted rope. Feeders are hung from flimsy branches that barely support the weight of a squirrel. Larger pieces of suet are even brought in at night to foil the thieving rascals.

After the last feeder disappeared, a flock  of Juncos persisted in scratching around on the ground a few feet from the feeding area where the basement drain drips down to the creek. Close investigation revealed that the Juncos were picking out the remains of the suet from the stolen feeder. Not only was the most recent theft discovered, but the cache of missing  feeders lay nearby in a pile of leaves.

You’ve heard the old saying “Birds of a feather, flock together.” In this case it was the Juncos helping out their Woodpecker friends.